Saggy bottom and other matters

The Vomit Comet (or Planet X London Road in ‘Zesty’ as it’s otherwise known) in action

It’s nice to see the weather improve and the temperature increase once again in Southern England after a week or so of languishing in unseasonably chilly winds. It provided a good opportunity to make up some miles – I really do feel like I’ve not put enough in so far this – only 420 road miles to date (and however many in the gym) – and it’s half way through May!

Last weekend I managed to fit in a solo ride of 35 miles – just a loop over the North Downs, through Holmbury and Ewhurst to Cranleigh and then back via Wonersh and Guildford. I’d had a fairly heavy night previously and thought it was biting me back on Sunday morning as I didn’t feel all there on the bike. As I headed up Staple Hill I felt OK (I had energy, my legs were feeling fine) but I couldn’t maintain a reasonable pace going up the steep section. It was hard work, much harder than I would expect it to feel.

Staple Lane

This experience repeated itself throughout the ride. I was struggling (comparatively) on the ups and always feeling like something was holding me back. I put it down to a combination of the night before and the fact it was chillier than I’d expected – my hands and feet were definitely feeling the bite of the wind. I averaged about 16 mph so it wasn’t a crawl but something wasn’t right. As I was putting the bike away, it did cross my mind that the saddle looked low but didn’t think enough of it to do any serious checking.

This weekend brought an opportunity to get [most of] the Paris group out on Saturday afternoon and we were lucky enough to dodge the rain that had been arriving in sharp bursts all morning. I decided it was a good time to roll out the Planet X and get a few decent miles in on it. I’d fitted the new doubled sided pedals and bottle cages to it on Saturday morning so no excuse to ride the Synapse. We headed out towards the ranges and climbed over the top from Pirbright on Grange Road and Gapemouth Road – two of my favourite roads for cycling and driving. We stopped off for a refreshment break at the Kingfisher on the Quay – a lovely spot overlooking the waterski-ing/SUP lake near Mytchett. We came back via a flatter but more circuitous route and finished up with 27 miles or thereabouts and a couple of recovery pints in the pub.

The lake at The Kingfisher
The bikes needed a breather…

The new bike performed well. The Apex 1×11 gearing will take a little getting used – it’s certainly not got the top end of a traditional compact but the lower gears will be helpful when loaded down, going up big hills. The bike itself feels tight and solid. It’s obviously heavier than the carbon Synapse but it still feels pretty sprightly even with the gravel-ly tyres on it. I haven’t decided whether I’m going to switch these out to Marathon or Marathon Plus tyres yet. The saddle was feeling a little firm at first but it bedded in as I went on further so I’ll play that one by … ear? I’m pleased with it and looking forward to taking out on the longer run to Paris next month.

Sunday morning brought around another ride – I headed out with Nick for an early morning ride. We decided to head up to Windsor Great Park – it’s normally about a 40 mile circuit with a few short punchy slopes involved, but nothing serious.

I felt pretty good as we headed out and through Chobham. We got to the other side however and onto Staple Hill and felt like I was towing a trailer. With bricks in. It’s a slope I know well and, whilst it’s noticeable, it’s nothing serious but, here I am, down near the granny ring and struggling to get up. I flagged Nick down and the first check I made was saddle height (I remembered my fleeting thought from the weekend before). Nick and I are similar heights but my saddle is normally quite a bit higher than his – a fact he’s commented on more than once. Today, however, mine’s an inch or so below his. Aha… that’ll be the problem then.

It’s probably the only thing about my Synapse that I don’t like. Rather than a traditional external clamping mechanism for the seat post, Cannondale have installed an internal clamping system that is controlled by a bolt running down parallel to the seat post. It’s not the easiest thing to get to and doesn’t work well with my multitool, my t bar allen keys or my torque wrench. I only had my multitool anyway at this point so reset the seat height and tightened up the bolt, the head of which, worryingly, seems to be stripping. I tightened it carefully (5-6Nm is the limit) and we set off again, this time with me back to riding more efficiently!

You can see the cover for the seat bolt post and how close it is to the seat post itself

As you will no doubt have foreseen, this was not the only time we had to stop and adjust the seat. Twice, it actually spun slightly as I was pushing which is never a great sign! It’s probably as simple as me being to timid to over-tighten it and/or strip the bolt head. I think I will just have to stick it in for a service and get it dealt with then.

As we headed for home out of Windsor, Nick seemed keen to get back quickly (he had a date with an important football match) and I felt like I was in a team time trial for about ten miles – hanging on to his back wheel for grim death! Saddle issues aside, it was a great ride out and it made me realise that the Paris training rides are not stretching me as much as I’d like and that I’m probably behind the curve of my usual fitness/strength progression into the peak summer months. It looks like I had better get my backside into gear and pick up my workload – presuming of course my saddle/seat post will allow me!!

The castle is there in the distance, I promise

John Wayne and hailstones

Another training ride…

Another Sunday, another training ride. After a chilly morning watching my son play football, as usual, I had a quick turnaround in order to meet Matt and Jon to head out for another training ride. The weather was somewhat nicer than in the previous couple of weekends – the wind was down considerably and, whilst chilly, it was fairly pleasant. Not shorts pleasant though I would add and I was glad I put full fingered gloves on – a last minute change of plan.

I decided that it was preferable to head out into the wind and then reap the benefits on the return trip so we headed west, out through Old Woking and Fox Corner towards Ash Vale. The wind, whilst significantly lower than in recent weeks, was still enough to dent forward momentum but we managed to keep up a decent pace through the back roads.

I’d planned to have a coffee stop in Ash Vale – there’s a very handy cafe near the station that I’ve stopped at before. Sadly, when we got there we discovered they were shutting for the day but it did give us a chance to give Matt’s set up a check as he was struggling with some aches and pains. Now, I’d preface this by saying that I’m no bike fitter and only have a rudimentary grasp on the geometric complexities of creating a comfortable and efficient riding position. However, one thing I have learnt over the past few years is that most new road cyclists (unless they’ve been properly fitted) tend to have their saddle lower than the optimum position. Matt was new to a road bike having only recently acquired it from a mutual friend and that, combined with the fact that his knees were somewhat splayed out as he cycled, suggested that a little more height in the saddle may help. As Jon succinctly commented, “You’re meant to look like John Wayne when you get off the bike, not while you’re on it”.

We did the quick heel-to-pedal measurement and bumped the saddle up an inch or so – it could have gone more but I didn’t want to end up with Matt struggling to put his feet down at stops so it was a compromise of efficiency and confidence. We also turned his handlebars up slightly as they were set in a very racy position. Just a few minutes’ work with an hex key and we were off again. Despite being denied a well earned coffee, the changes seemed to spur Matt on and he seemed to be in less pain and riding at a quicker pace after the stop. I decided that this gave me the excuse to suggest heading back over the top of the ranges at Mytchett – always one of my favourite roads – and get the benefit of the long gradual descent down the other side via Grange Road into Pirbright.

Matt had a scary moment as we turned right, at speed, into Grange Road as a BMW driver decided to overtake him despite the fact he’d indicated and moved into the centre of the road (in good time) for the turn. This prompted a lot of”typical BMW driver” comments from the others (I drive a BMW, sorry), followed up by “you don’t get that from Audi drivers” (guess what they both drive?). The phrase ‘famous last words’ sprang to mind a few minutes later when we were buzzed by an Audi hatchback on Cemetery Pales who was apparently trying to set a new landspeed record! I’d be more critical if I hadn’t been guilty, in my misspent youth, of doing much the same thing on a few occasions.

Aided by the wind behind us, we made good time to the local pub to meet our families who had gone for a walk and this was just as well because, a few sips into our first pint of Guinness (Happy St Patrick’s Day!) we were treated to a very sharp shower of hailstones that appeared out of nowhere. Fortunately we were under cover unlike our families who got blasted by it just before they reached the comfort of the pub.

Good timing!

Hopefully the weather will improve over the coming weeks as I’m keen to get some longer rides under my belt. Given it’s heading towards the end of March, I don’t feel up to speed just yet and need to up the stamina levels before the (hopefully) sunny months ahead. Still, another 25 miles was covered and it all counts!